Zushi Beach in Kanagawa Prefecture opened for the summer on Friday as it battles to attract visitors following a clampdown on rowdy partygoers that saw numbers drop by more than half last year.
Cloudy skies greeted participants in an opening ceremony featuring around 400 children singing a nursery rhyme as Zushi became the first beach in the Kanto region to kick off the summer.
The Zushi Municipal Government is trying to rebrand the beach as a family-friendly spot after enforcing strict regulations last year banning loud music, alcohol and tattoos, after residents complained of unruly behavior and pounding dance music at the beach huts that line the shore.
The initiative also came after the fatal stabbings of two yakuza at the beach in July 2013.
But the clampdown has taken its toll on tourism, with visitors to the beach dropping from a pre-ban 417,000 in 2013 to just 201,300 last year.
“Public order was not good before two years ago, and it was causing trouble for local people,” Zushi Mayor Ryuichi Hirai told The Japan Times by phone Friday.
“Children couldn’t go to the beach on their own. Last year, in order to restore safety, we introduced strict rules and the result is that it’s safe for children to go on their own again. I think that’s a good thing, and the public response has been positive too.”
The city followed Friday’s ceremony by opening an inflatable water park at the beach and plans to hold several events aimed at families over the summer.
“We are planning lots of events to boost tourism,” said Hirai. “For example, we have a program of marine sports and events for kids to play in the sea. On weekends we also have events in the evenings.”
The city also says it will relax laws to allow beach huts to stay open until 8 p.m. on weekends during July and possibly August, and has plans for various adult-oriented events. The current regular curfew is 6:30 p.m.
The regulations introduced last year included a blanket ban on playing music through loudspeakers, barbecuing outside designated areas, drinking alcohol on the beach and exposing tattoos, long considered synonymous with the yakuza.
The alcohol and barbecue bans will remain this year, but the city said it will also allow beach bars to play background music.
“Numbers won’t return overnight to the level they were before last year, but we want people to come to Zushi,” said Hirai. “Our aim is to raise it by 50 percent. We’d like to get it to around 300,000.”
Hirai acknowledges the negative impact the regulations had on visitor numbers, but insists that local businesses are behind the measures.
“Last year we were able to create a safe, fun environment, and generally even businesspeople were in favor,” he said. “The amount of visitors fell by half, but overall it didn’t have such a big effect on the local economy.
“The town becoming a safer place means that there are better public morals in the town. Local people have thought this was worth doing, but local businesses have been in favor of it too.”
In March, the adjacent city of Kamakura followed Zushi’s lead in enforcing a similar clampdown at Yuigahama, Zaimokuza and Koshigoe beaches.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5